Magritte's imagery has entered the popular imagination, not least through its extraordinary influence on commercial advertising and design.

This is perhaps unsurprising. Magritte is able to create memorable images which succinctly articulate an apparently simple idea - a monumentally sized apple in a room, for example, or night reconciled with day - which at the same time as being arresting hold the viewer captivated. Magritte’s mysterious imagery has been borrowed and adapted for a variety of uses, particularly for record covers - for example The Jeff Beck Group’s Beck-Ola (1969). His painting The Human Condition 1933 was paraphrased for the sleeve of Paul McCartneys’s bagpipe-laden folk anthem Mull of Kintyre (see below). Consider, too, Magritte’s influence on Storm Thorgerson (see the TateShots film), who designed album covers for Pink Floyd.

Magritte Idiotic Work Beck Ola cover
The cover of Beck-Ola is incredibly similar to Magritte's Listening Room 1958
Magritte Idiotic Work Listening Room
René Magritte, Listening Room 1958

What is comparatively unknown is that Magritte himself moonlighted as a commercial artist. This activity spanned almost fifty years (1918–66) and encompassed advertising and wallpaper design, propaganda posters, fashion illustration. Examples of these are included in our exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Undertaking projects largely out of financial necessity, his relationship to commercial design was somewhat ambiguous, once describing it as ‘idiotic work’ while at the same time feeling confident enough to show it to André Breton, who reputedly liked it.

Magritte Idiotic Work Wings
Paul McCartney is a known fan of Magritte
Magritte Idiotic Work The Human Condition - 1933
René Magritte, The Human Condition 1933


In 1930 financial considerations led Magritte to join forces with his brother Paul to establish ‘Studio Dongo’, a commercial design enterprise which operated out of a shed at the bottom of his garden in Rue Esseghem, Brussels. On display at Tate Liverpool is a poster created for the Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascists. It shows Léon Degrelle, leader of the Belgian fascist party, holding a mirror in which we see the face of Hitler.

Magritte Idiotic Work Le Vrai
Le Vrai Visage de Rex c.1937

Some of the most interesting of Magritte’s commercial designs are his fashion illustrations for Norine, a Brussels couture house established in 1916 by Paul-Gustave van Hecke and Honorine ‘Norine’ Deschryver. Stylistically these experiment with Cubo-Futurist and Art Deco approaches, suggesting the influence of Robert Delauney and reflecting the artistic and cultural dynamism of the Roaring Twenties. His designs for the furrier Samuel et Cie have a close affinity to some of his Surrealist painting of the period. Both deploy mannequin-like skittle forms of the female figures, their heads truncated, or replaced with featureless machine-turned orbs as seen on shop-window mannequins.

Magritte Idiotic Work Spread
Pour l’année 1928 la maison Samuel vous présente quelques manteaux 1927


Can readers suggest other examples of Magritte’s influence on commercial design?


Hazel Bartram-B...

His work has stayed hot in design and advertising.


Back to black eh. and another one bites the dust.ahh deary deary me,the music industry the music industry the music industry.


"the 27 club" .... "it was part of her art " no no


"the best soul voice this country has ever produced" that's more like it,thankyou George, of course you're not so bad yourself,so stay with us eh.

Several other examples would be possible, but I'll add just this one: "Out Of The Woods", 1978 album cover by the band Oregon. As we say in Dutch, "it has something in the march of" Carte Blanche (1965).

The classical locus for an overview is Georges Roque's dissertation, "Ceçi n'est pas un Magritte: essai sur Magritte et la publicité". 206 pages and that was only up until 1983 ...